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The Agency/Startup Relationship Heats Up, Finally!
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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Agencies and start-ups: sounded like a perfect match. Yet, the relationship between the two has been slow-moving. First, as the agency model began to face fire (and rightfully continues to do so), technologists and "innovators" began to posture about how agencies should model themselves after the startup: slim structure, minimum overhead, with multiple people wearing multiple hats. Then the agency world fired back (with us as well), saying that startups cannot possibly survive and thrive with their shoestring, DIY mentality. Keeping costs low is great, but doing so is inefficient; startups lose the comparative advantage battle.

So now we meet again. 

Campaign covers two separate partnerships going on between the agency and startup world.

The first partnership comes from WPP-owned agency, RKCR/Y&R, a digital and creative shop. Shortly after reorganizing its executive structure, it announced that it is bringing three digital and tech startups in-house for collaboration on projects. The "value-exchange initiative" is called Spark Plug. The three inaugural shops include Evrythng, a software company that connects products to the web; Crane.tv, an online video magazine; and wireWAX, a video company that makes videos an interactive experience.

Those three shops alone sound pretty sweet. Spark Plug is at least a six-month collaboration, before the agency moves on to invite additional shops.

The second partnership involves a few more parties. William Hill, CBS Outdoor, and BBC Worldwide are teaming up with investment group Pembridge and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' Creative England to find, fund, and mentor ten early-stage startups. This public/private program is called Collider12.

Pembridge is allocating £50,000 (or $79,700 U.S. Dollars) of equity for each applicant winner, while Creative England is supplying a £50,000 loan to each applicant.

Small Business Administration, eat your heart out.

And good news to early stage companies: It is open to more than just digital/Internet-based companies. This all sounds like the stuff we predicted well over a year ago.

Have we seen these kind of partnerships in the U.S.? Sort of, but not nearly at this kind of scale. W&K have a history of working with startups. And BBH, if we remember correctly, spun a branch off to find and invest in startups and digital companies, but it seems their efforts have disappeared under the fold.

AdLand, if we in the U.S. want to be the leaders of the industry in the future, then we need to lock it up and catch up. Let's be more risky and work with startups, and worry more about the future rather than the bottom line "right now." Because we're losing ground, and our friends across the pond aren't looking back.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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